We're less married than we've ever been. Yet, more unwed couples live together than ever before. More children born out of wedlock. Minnesota's paternity laws are rather traditional, in what is evolving into a less traditional society. Has the law kept pace with reality?
The answer, of course, is "no." Not because the law has targeted paternity in isolation. But, rather, because the law inherently reacts to the world around it. As norms change, so does the law. Is it time to tweak the law concerning unwed fathers?
As a family law attorney, I often see one of two types of unwed fathers in my work.
The first involves the stereotypical unwed father - you know, the one who cheated and wants nothing to do with their new son or daughter. This seems to be the fellow that the paternity statutes are geared toward...denying the father any right to see the child in the absence of a court order.
Naturally, there are legitimate concerns addressed by the present law.
What if this father showed up four years after the child was born, demanding to take the child for his weekend parenting time? How might that impact the child? The law seems to protect the child in this instance. Certainly, the court can deal with father in a manner that slowly facilitates a parent/child relationship, assuming paternity is established.
The second situation involves the opposite - someone in a committed relationship with the child's mother, even living together, as a family, following the birth of the child.
Let's suppose that this father works days, and mother works nights. When dad works, mom watches the baby. When mom works, dad watches the baby. Weekends are special family time together. This couple signed a Recognition of Parentage at the hospital, without any dispute about dad being "dad." The child is, in fact, bonded to both parents and recognizes both parents as significant caregivers.
Suppose mom and dad reach a rocky point a year after the child is born, and split up. Mom is, by default, afforded sole legal and physical custody of the child. Dad is not entitled to anything. In fact mom can (and often does) pull the plug on dad's parenting time, forcing him into court.
The trouble is that dad may not (and often does not) get a hearing date for three or four months.
Is the law protecting the child in this scenario? Or, does the law actually harm the child by depriving the child of time with a significant caregiver? Experts agree that there is a small window of opportunity for critical bonding between an infant and parent.
Forget the father. The question really isn't geared toward the "father's rights" crowd.
The issue is whether the present law really serves the best interest of the child in the second scenario?
Now that I've offended every mother and father in the Twin Cities, I am interested in your perspective.